The Prophet’s Night Journey: Incidents And Significance
AS far as the issue of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) night journey (Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi’raj) is concerned, we’d deal with it from the following dimensions:
1. Its time and incidents
As for its exact date, it is still controversial and no consensus has been reached. However, the majority of scholars are in favor of a date between 16-12 months prior to the Prophet’s (PBUH) migration to Madina.
It was during this period that the Prophet (PBUH) was made to undertake a night journey from the Kaaba to Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa in Jerusalem. Then he was borne to the celestial regions where he witnessed the seven Heavens, met the Prophets (of yore and saw the remarkable signs of divine majesty about which the Qur’an says: “The sight (of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) turned not aside (right or left) nor it transgressed beyond the limit (ordained for it). Indeed he (Muhammad, peace be upon him) did see of the Great Signs, of his Lord.”(Surah 53: 17-18)
The occurrence of the event at that time was meant to confer honor upon the Prophet (PBUH). It signified something like viands of higher regale in order to console and alleviate the feelings of distress caused to him by the persecution of the pagans at Taif. After the incident of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi’raj, the Prophet (PBUH) told the people about his nocturnal journey, but the Quraysh mocked him and shook their heads in disbelief stating that it was inconceivable and beyond the bounds of reason. When Abu Bakr (Allah be pleased with him) saw the Quraysh accusing the Prophet (PBUH) of falsehood, he said, “What makes you wonder about it? If he said this, then it must be true. By Allah, he tells me that the revelation is sent down to him from Heaven in a flash or in an instant during the day or night and I believe him. This is even more unimaginable and difficult than what seems to astound you.”
2. Real significance of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi’raj
The journey of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi’raj did not occur in a routine or ordinary run of things. It was only to demonstrate the profound phenomena of the Kingdom of Allah in the Heavens and the earth to the Prophet (PBUH) of Islam. More than that, such a prophetic journey of tremendous importance alludes to a number of other significant and complex realities of far-reaching concern to humanity.
The two Qur’anic chapters (Surahs) of Al-Israa’ and An-Najm revealed in connection with this Heavenly journey indicate that Muhammad (peace be upon him) was charged with the office of prophethood for both the Houses of Allah, those in Jerusalem and Makkah, and was sent as the leader of the East and the West or the entire human race until the end of time.
As the inheritor of all the Prophets (peace be upon them all) of old, he represented the fulfillment and consummation of mankind’s religious development. His nightly journey from Makkah to Jerusalem expresses, in a figurative way, that his personality conformed and alluded to the oneness of Al-Masjid Al-Haram at Makkah and Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa at Jerusalem. That all the Prophets (peace be upon them all) arrayed themselves behind him in Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa shows that the doctrine of Islam, preached by him, was final, universal and all-comprehensive, meant for every class and section of human society throughout the ages.
The event is, at the same time, indicative of the comprehensiveness of the prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH) and the place accorded to his followers in the great task of humanity’s guidance and the distinctive character of his message.
Frankly speaking, the incident of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi’raj represents a demarcation line between the regional, limited, and variable rules of divine guidance entrusted to the Prophets of old and the global, comprehensive, and abiding principles of faith conferred on the universal leader of the human race. Had the Prophet (peace be upon him) been a sectional or regional guide, a national leader, the savior of any particular race or the restorer of the glory of any particular people, there would have been no need to honor him with the ascension to the Heavens nor would he have been required to perceive the hidden phenomena of the Heavens and the earth. Nor would it have been necessary to create a new link between the celestial and the earthly boundaries of the Divine Kingdom; in that case, the confines of his own land, his surroundings environs, and the times would have been sufficient enough and there would have been no need for him to divert his attention to any other land or country. Neither his ascension to the most sublime regions of the Heavens and to the “Lote-Tree of the Farthest Limit” or even the nocturnal journey to the far-away Jerusalem, then in the grip of the powerful Christian Empire of Byzantium, would have been necessary at all.
The Journey of Al-Israa’ and Al-Mi’raj of the Prophet (PBUH) was a divine proclamation that he had nothing to do with the category of national or political leaders whose endeavors are limited to their own country and nation, for they serve the nations and races to which they belong and a product of their time, they serve the need of a particular juncture. The Prophet (PBUH) of Islam, on the contrary, belonged to the luminous line of the Messengers of Allah (peace be upon them all) who communicate the inspired message of Heaven to the earth. They are links between Allah and His creatures.
3. The prescription of prayer
On this occasion, Allah made 50 prayers a day obligatory for the Prophet (PBUH) and his followers. The Prophet (PBUH) constantly implored Allah for the reduction of the prayers until the Lord was also pleased to limit these to only five times daily. The Lord was also pleased to declare that whoever properly performs these five-times daily prayers would be recompensed for all the 50 daily prayers enjoined earlier.